I was there the day Williams took its first grand prix win. I'd thrashed my Hillman Avenger GLS all the way down to Silverstone from the north-east, discovered that the temperature gauge crept up if you kept it at 90mph for any length of time, used its reclining seat as a bed, parked in a lay-by just a walk away from the track.
The exciting news in AUTOSPORT that week was that Niki Lauda had tested the Brabham-Alfa BT48 in the 1m14s, a massive chunk under the lap record. Looked like his season might be about to turn around.
But as I watched Thursday qualifying from the Woodcote grandstand, that was all put into perspective by Alan Jones, who lapped the Williams FW07 in a staggering 1m11.88s, the car visibly light years quicker than anything else. Two days later Clay Regazzoni won the race in the sister car.
We couldn't know it at the time, but it was a significant moment in F1 history, the weekend when what would become one of the most successful teams of all time came of age. Taking a freeze-frame of it 30 years later and getting the people concerned to give their take on it is a fascinating exercise.
Frank Williams: "Alan came in and said, 'You can't believe what's going on out there. It's just unreal how quick it is.' Suddenly life was 100 per cent in another direction. I'll never forget that feeling. Loads of people were looking at their stopwatches; I'll never forget the despair on their faces. It was like God had given us a miracle."
Frank Dernie: "We wanted to tidy the floor up around the engine. I did a fairing and it was the single biggest improvement I think I've ever seen in the windtunnel." It was on the car three days later in time for Silverstone.
Steve Fowler, mechanic: "A water-pipe modification was needed on both cars, but I could only make one pipe because I was doing the skirts as well. They had another company make the second pipe. The one on Jonesey's car cracked [in the race]. Of course, I thought, 'Shit! That's mine.' But it wasn't. Mine was on Regazzoni's car."
Virginia Williams: "My job, if I was at a race, was always to take the drivers' wives who didn't want to watch the start. Most of them never watched the start, and Beverley [Jones] most certainly wouldn't. We did have a little white caravan at Silverstone, and I can remember going there with Beverley; she was absolutely shaking with worry and fear. When Alan retired, Beverley was so upset. I can remember her walking through the garage and crying, 'I wanted Alan to win the first race.' I knew Clay was winning and I remember thinking I don't know quite what to do here."
I didn't then know Tony Dodgins, who's now a journalistic colleague, but unlike me he'd already decided he was going to write about the sport and had arranged that weekend to interview Frank Williams and Colin Chapman. Tony noticed that Carlos Reutemann (then a Lotus driver, but who signed for Williams for the following season) was waiting politely for an audience with Frank. Tony didn't put two and two together with regards to the driver market, but his account of what Chapman and Williams had told him won him the William Lyons Award for would-be motorsport writers, setting him on his way.
These accounts are all taken from Maurice Hamilton's superb new book Williams, published by Ebury. Getting a fresh take on a team with such a massive amount of coverage over the years is a tough task, but Maurice has pulled it off superbly by talking us breezily through each significant step of the team's story, then letting others tell the specifics, rich in anecdote and perspective.
That Silverstone '79 account is just one of a book full of such multi-dimensional snapshots all the way, from Frank's early days of wheeling and dealing right up to now. Buy it. It's wonderful.
To continue reading this feature, join Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.